Mariano Rivera stunned a raucous crowd still buzzing after Robinson Cano’s grand slam. Mr. Automatic faltered for the third straight game, the rarest of slumps for the dominant closer.
Russell Branyan’s three-run homer on the first pitch Rivera threw in the ninth inning was not enough to wipe out the lead, though, and the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels, 6-5, yesterday in New York, giving Rivera his 30th save for the 14th season.
“As much as we want to think that he’s about as close to the perfect closer as we have seen, he’s not perfect,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
After earning 29 saves this season with relative ease in his 15th year of shutting down teams with a buzz-saw cut fastball, Rivera gave up a run in a third straight appearance for the first time since last September against Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Boston.
The blip began on Sunday in Boston, when he blew his fourth save opportunity this season. On Tuesday, he gave up a two-run drive to Bobby Abreu in a tie game, his first homer allowed at Yankee Stadium this season.
“The saves and the stuff is OK but it won’t make me or break me,’’ Rivera said. “Games like this get me upset because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’’
There’s nothing wrong, Rivera said. He’s just missing with one pitch.
“It’s not that I’ve been missing and missing and missing and missing,’’ he said. “Just one pitch, you get on one of those streaks. It happens.’’
Branyan was aware of Rivera’s recent struggles and was prepared when he came to bat.
“For a three-game stretch, I’ve never seen him get hit this way,’’ Branyan said. “I was just aggressive because he always comes after me . . . I’ve gotten that same pitch before and pulled it foul.’’
Rivera retired the next two batters to preserve the victory.
Cano had given the Yankees a 6-2 lead with his fifth career grand slam, off Scott Downs, two pitches after Maicer Izturis made a two-out error to load the bases.
It was 2-all in the seventh when Mark Teixeira hit a routine bouncer toward Izturis, but the ball hit off the second baseman’s glove when he looked for the throw before securing the ball. Two pitches later, Cano lined a shot off the facing of the second deck in right field for his 20th homer of the year.
“He had to have taken his eye off it to read the play, because Izzy has the best hands on that field,’’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Tigers 4, Indians 3 - Justin Verlander gave Detroit exactly what it needed, becoming baseball’s first 17-game winner as the division-leading Tigers avoided being swept by host Cleveland and opened a three-game lead in the AL Central.
Verlander (17-5) allowed three hits and struck out 10 in seven dominant innings to earn career win No. 100 as the Tigers ended a 13-game losing streak in Cleveland. He was also on the mound for Detroit’s previous win at Progressive Field on May 8, 2010.
Athletics 10, Blue Jays 3 - Conor Jackson drove in three runs, Hideki Matsui had four hits, and Oakland won in Toronto.
Oakland failed to hit a home run for the first time in nine games but still finished with its most runs since scoring 13 against Tampa Bay on July 27. Oakland’s season-high is 14 runs, set May 17 against the Angels.
Rays 4, Royals 1 - Jeff Niemann won his sixth consecutive decision, Ben Zobrist had a two-run triple, and host Tampa Bay completed a four-game sweep of Kansas City.
Niemann (7-4) allowed one run and nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. The righthander is 6-0 in nine starts since returning from a strained lower back.
White Sox 6, Orioles 3 - Mark Buehrle pitched eight innings to earn his 10th win, Alexei Ramirez homered in a four-run first inning, and Chicago cruised in Baltimore.
Juan Pierre had three hits and two RBIs for the White Sox, who scored four runs before making an out. Chicago took three of four from the Orioles to complete a 6-1 road trip.
Cubs 4, Nationals 3 - Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena hit back-to-back homers and Chicago beat visiting Washington.
Ramirez’s two-run shot in the seventh was his 21st of the season, and gave him 16 homers since June 25, the most in the major leagues since then.
Diamondbacks 8, Astros 5 - Chris Young hit a game-ending three-run homer in the 10th inning and host Arizona rallied to beat Houston.
Houston was one strike away from wrapping up a 5-3 victory before pinch-hitter Paul Goldschmidt hit a tying two-run shot off Mark Melancon.
Cardinals 5, Brewers 2 - Albert Pujols kicked off a 4-for-4 night with a solo homer and host St. Louis beat Milwaukee to avoid a three-game sweep.
St. Louis pulled within four games of NL Central-leading Milwaukee, which has won 13 of 15. The Cardinals are the only team to beat the Brewers during their hot streak.
Padres 3, Mets 2 - Cameron Maybin homered and stole two bases before scoring the tiebreaking run on an error by substitute shortstop Ruben Tejada, rallying visiting San Diego past New York for a split of the four-game series.
Heath Bell pitched a perfect ninth and the last-place Padres improved to 5-2 on a 10-game road trip.
Reds 2, Rockies 1 - Johnny Cueto and two relievers made a pair of first-inning runs stand up and host Cincinnati salvaged a split of its four-game series against Colorado.